Elbert Arakawa
1399th Engineer Construction Battalion

Elbert Arakawa

Elbert is born in 1914 to Eigi and Uto Arakawa of Paia, Maui.

Eigi is a sugarcane contractor and laborer. The Arakawas move to Ewa, Oahu before settling in Wailea, Hawaii Island.

Uto falls ill and she, four-year-old Elbert, and his three siblings go to live in Eigi’s home village, Onaha, Okinawa.

Too young to plant potatoes, Elbert plays in the field. Growing up, he attends school in Okinawa up to the fourth grade before the family returns to Wailea.

I was born in Paia, Maui in nineteen fourteen.

Parents: Eigi and Uto Arakawa

[My father Eigi Arakawa bought a sugar cane field and raised his own sugar cane. He also worked as labor for Maui Agricultural Company, Kaheka Camp when he was not preoccupied with his own field.]

Sugar cane harvest, Maui, Hawaii

[My father] had his lot, yeah. But if there’s work outside, he’ll go outside, work and then get paid. So it was a good deal.

What [my parents] told me was they went to Ewa [Oahu]. And then from there he went to Wailea [Hawaii Island]. And we stayed there until I was four years old. My mother [Uto Arakawa] got sick. So my father said, “You better go back [to Okinawa].”

So four of us — my brother who’s older than me [Gitaro], myself, my older sister [Haruko] and my younger sister [Juliet] — four of us [and mother], went to Okinawa to live. And we stayed there five years.

Okinawa

Oh, boy. (Laughs) I was so small I couldn’t help my mother. We were in the field and she till the soil and plant [sweet] potatoes and so on for us to eat. I was so small that all I did was play with insects.

They have this special insect that comes at a certain season, see. And I used to get banana leaves, roll it up, put ’em on a stick. And they on a tree. I used to shoot ’em from inside. That kind of stuff.

Of course, we had, once a year, tsunahiki [tug-of-war], they call it. Pull the rope. One-half of the village on one side the other half on the other side. And they feel that, that side that win going to have a good luck or something like that, yeah.

I don’t know what date it was. But anyway my brother was kind of good-looking so when they go approach, both sides coming down this way, he was on the rope. It’s a big rope, see. He stand on the rope and they coming together. [When the two sides lock together, both sides start pulling. The side that wins is going to have a prosperous year.] That was a big event in our village. It’s still going on in Naha in Okinawa.

I used to go to the beach every time, spent most of the time. Sandy beach, clean water, really nice beach at that time.

The second time I went to visit, they said, “No use go over there.” The man over there told me, he said, “The beach is all black already.” During [World War II], I don’t know what they did to the water but they changed the environment.

[Staying in Okinawa, 1918–1923] was a kind of good experience, I would say, though. I went to fourth grade in Japanese school before I came [back] to Wailea.

Elbert Arakawa, age 9. Just returned from Okinawa.

[The name of the village was] Onaha.

My great-great grandfather was what they call, village magistrate. He take care of the village. But the son after that, had another son, he spoiled him. So that happened to be my father’s father. So my father had to start all over again. Well, that’s the way it went.

[My father never said why he came to Hawaii]. We hardly communicated.

Elbert Arakawa's interview reprinted courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Library of Congress.

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